David Friedman’s behavior as US Ambassador to Israel should alarm all those who care about US policy in the Middle East and the basic norms of American diplomacy. Instead of representing his country and its policies, this ambassador is representing himself. Repeatedly, he has made remarks that undermine efforts to lower tensions in the region and advance Israeli-Palestinian peace — and affirmed the talking points of the Israeli right.
With his actions, Friedman has broken his promises to Senators to behave diplomatically and prudently in his new post. While during his confirmation hearings he testified that he would not support or advocate for Israeli annexation in the West Bank, he has since consistently acted to provide cover and support for Israeli leaders moving towards that goal. Instead of helping to pursue peace, he has exacerbated regional tensions and confusion over US policy.
Earlier this week, while expressing his condolences to the family of an Israeli victim of a terror attack in the West Bank, Friedman used the tragedy to imply that Palestinians bear sole responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He tweeted, “Look no further to why there is no peace.” In response, the Palestinian foreign ministry charged that “Friedman’s remarks and positions further complicated the road towards the peace process and the resumption of negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides.”
This is far from the first time the ambassador has crossed this line. In September, Friedman egregiously misrepresented longstanding US policy towards the settlements, along with basic facts. He told the press that “settlements are part of Israel” and that Israel is “only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank.” His comments were so incorrect and dangerous that the State Department was forced to publicly clarify that they did not represent a shift in US policy. In December, Israeli media reported that Friedman had requested that the State Department cease using the terms “occupation” and “Israeli-occupied territories” — again, clearly pursuing his own agenda of support for the normalization of settlement expansion and occupation in the West Bank.
During Friedman’s nomination process, Members of Congress, veteran diplomats and American Jewish organizations questioned his fitness to serve in such a sensitive diplomatic posting. An unprecedented 46 Senators ultimately voted against Friedman’s confirmation, with many citing his long track record of inflammatory rhetoric and his close ideological and financial ties to the Israeli settlement movement. Since taking up his post, the ambassador has fully validated the serious concerns that were raised at that time.
Members of Congress should demand that the Trump administration account for and bring an end to Friedman’s deeply damaging conduct.